Treasure box

At Christmas we were sent a box of shortbread. Although the shortbread was delicious, the box was even better – much too good to throw away. So it sat on my shelf, waiting. Finally, I knew what I wanted to do with it. A quick scavenge in the garden, a little blue ink, a touch of gold paint and gold leaf and hey presto!

So, from left to right we have a sprig from a plant of which I don’t know the name, a sycamore leaf, a dove’s feather, a portion of monkey puzzle tree and a skeleton holly leaf. All imperfect beauties salvaged for posterity. I just wish my handwriting was a bit more… perfect.

Mother of Invention

Yes, that’s Necessity. And in this case, necessity demanded a card for a friend’s daughter who had just given birth to a lovely little boy. I hadn’t found a card I liked, so was driven to make my own.

It was quite a straightforward process, and enjoyable, because I had all the materials to hand – some colourful leftover watercoloured paper from another project, and a printed sheet ‘repurposed’ from a paper plane kit. A quick scout for image inspiration, and I was off. After some careful scissor work, a bit of gluing and a little fine detail in pen, the job was done.

Stork watercolour card

Golden Opportunity

There is a pile of roofing slates in our back garden, they’ve been there for years, legacy of much-needed building work. It’s always seemed to me that they have potential for something arty, but I’ve struggled to find the right application.

I have tried drawing on it with a mini-tool, which sort of works, but is a very muted effect. So when I was tempted by some gold leaf in an art shop recently, I thought that I’d have another look at the slate pile and hope inspiration might be forthcoming…

There is a pile of roofing slates in our back garden, they’ve been there for years, legacy of much-needed building work. It’s always seemed to me that they have potential for something arty, but I’ve struggled to find the right application. I have tried drawing on it with a mini-tool, which sort of works, but […] Mountain sun slate

Sure, these mountains are a bit ‘Bob Ross‘, but you know, maybe it could lead to something. I definitely like the combination of the grey slate with the deliciously shiny (imitation) gold leaf, and the way the white acrylic stuttered over the contoured surface, lending extra texture. But did I mention that the leaf is a bit of a beast to work with? It is wilful, and flakey. Literally. More practice needed if I ever want to get very smooth, perfectly-edged effects.  I’ll be having a think on the possibilities.

Airport Reportage

Luton Airport isn’t the most inspiring place, generally speaking. But it is a good place for people-watching, even if you can’t guarantee they will stay still for long.

Waiting for our flights to France, I was able to pass a few quick minutes sketching fellow passengers – good practice for fast sketching. I have realised that it pays dividends to have a really good look at the person, then try to imagine what their face would look like from other angles, before setting pencil to paper. This gives a bit of an advantage when they move (which they surely will).

I probably spent about 10 minutes each on these small sketches, and am fairly happy with what I learned. Working fast is de rigueur, and pencil is ideal. I definitely need to do more of this (although I wouldn’t go so far as to make the airport my destination)!


Mark Making

Sunday afternoon, sketching in the garden. Husband (Mark) drawing vine leaves, me drawing him. I chose pencil this time, feeling somewhat obliged to put my money where my mouth was after giving him a long diatribe on why it’s important to be able to use pencil for shading, because of the subtlety of grades it offers the user. I have a nasty suspicion that I spent less time drawing this than telling him why he needs to get over the ‘messiness’ of graphite and accept its many merits.

This in mind, it’s rather ironic then that I didn’t really smooth out the shades or get a particularly wide variety of tones…but you know, the sun was very bright and the contrast high. That’s my excuse, for what it’s worth, and I’m sticking to it. Anyway it made a nice, comfortable change to get stuck in with the old 4B for a few minutes.

Mark sketching pencil

Back to Collage

It’s September, and high time I was getting back into the swing of making pictures now the boy is back at school. I’m easing in gently today, playing with a bit of collage. I had an idea which I began with, but this is not quite how I expected it to turn out…


Perhaps it’s reflecting my state of mind at the moment!

Day’s End

It’s been a busy day, and I’m completely zonked, but I wanted to do a little something with paint. So here it is, once more not quite how I imagined it would be.

I’m not sure how to classify this, what with the torn paper, and the fact that each set of hills is set forward from the one behind using a couple of millimetres of mount board, so there’s a slight 3D effect. And, to quote Forrest Gump, ‘That’s all I have to say about that.’

3d hills sunset watercolour






Karma Camellia

OK, so this was an experiment which was only a partial success. I had in mind to use white tissue paper on a black background, to build up layers of increasing opacity and whiteness to suggest contouring. The original concept was to depict a marble statue. However, I was at home, didn’t have a good photo of a statue to work from, and didn’t want to use someone else’s picture. Instead, I dug out a photo of a white camellia, taken a few years ago on a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where there is an amazing conservatory full of camellias. I thought that would work.

Camellia collage & pencil

I cut out the first layer of tissue, then, without sticking it to the background, proceeded to layer on further pieces. I think this process is just visible, still. But I was disappointed by the lack of transparency in the first layer, as not enough of the black was showing through for my liking, to add the darkest parts. In something of a dudgeon I slathered a bit of Pritt stick on the back, and stuck what I had to the paper. Too later, I realised that the glue had increased the transparency sufficiently, but because I hadn’t spread it smoothly it wouldn’t be good enough. I couldn’t get the tissue off again without tearing it, so I resigned myself to having to take a different approach.

I found some black tissue, cut it to shape, and stuck it in a couple of places where I wanted the deepest darks to be. This was no good though, too dark, so I tried to peel it off, and damaged the white under layer in the process. Oh dear. I was getting a bad feeling about the whole thing.

Finally I resolved to put the darks in with coloured pencil. It sort of salvaged the picture, although you can still see where the previous failures took place. By this time I’d rather lost patience, but I accept that I learned a lot. The final picture isn’t great (it looks a lot better from a distance!), but that’s life. I know I could have done better if it had been either collage or coloured pencil from the outset, rather than a dubious combination of both as a band-aid fix. Next time…

Interestingly though, this piece got me thinking about famous artists and the huge catalogue of works, scribbles and sketches which they have undoubtedly created in their lifetimes. I’m sure many of the ‘greats’ had experiments, and days where they felt rather less than joyous about the results they’d achieved – but they kept them, nonetheless. Some of these less successful attempts must have ended up in art galleries across the globe, treasured as much (or maybe more) because they were created by the hand of the master than as pictures in their own right. Knowing that established artists also have ‘off’ days and odd experiments is a great leveller. We can still learn so much from their explorations, and equally from our own trials and tribulations. How strange ‘art’ is.


It’s funny, an atomiser isn’t nearly as sci-fi as its name would suggest. I’d love to be able to blast objects down to their constituent atoms with just one squeeze of the little bulb… but the reality is much more prosaic. My refillable atomiser is even less useful, as it’s lost its rubber bulb and can no longer issue a little breath of perfume on demand.

However, it did provide a diverting subject for me today. I felt like a change, and turned to collage, inspired by  the recent collages of fellow bloggers, Memadtwo and Sabiscuit. This is my second collage, and as in my previous experiment, I chose to make the outcome as ‘realistic’ as I could in terms of form and colour, using snippets from a small stack of magazines I have hoarded.

Atomiser collageThis picture measures about 4.5ins, which means I was working pretty small. I sketched out the basic shape with a white carbothello, (a mistake, as it doesn’t rub out easily) and then started choosing and cutting out the collage pieces. Being rather lazy (as I’ve mentioned before), I used scissors, and not the sharpest or finest pair. As may be imagined, this did make things a bit tricky as the necessary level of control on the very small pieces was hard to achieve. And at this size, bits of paper keep sticking to your fingers rather than the page – I think philatelist’s tweezers would have been a boon. Next time, maybe?

However, I had a really nice time making this picture. There is something which, for me, is quite meditative about trying to find exactly the right shade and texture of print for an area. And that was just what I needed today.

(P.S. I’m not sure where the Border option has gone on WordPress’s image tools – can’t say I love it when they change stuff like that!)

Scales & Arpeggios

What do many musicians dislike most? It’s the daily drudgery of scales and arpeggios – until you’ve mastered them, that is, after which they just become something you do automatically, and which provide the building blocks for better playing. I know it’s the same with painting. But I freely confess that I’ve been shying away from some of the most important watercolour exercises. My excuses were that:

  1. I want to spend my limited time actually painting a picture, not doing un-creative practice
  2. It might be boring
  3. Nobody bothers with this stuff anyway
  4. Why would I waste my paint?

Colour chart WatercolourAll pretty weak reasons, I’ll admit. Yesterday I didn’t feel creative, but I had time to spare, for once. The obvious thing to do was make a colour chart for watercolours.

I counted my paint pans – 24, not including black and white (which I hardly ever use). I dug out my biggest watercolour paper and drew up 24 x 24 box grid. That’s so many boxes that each one measured only 11mm x 14mm. I was a bit worried that this might be too small, but in actual fact it worked fine. I reorganised my palette into colour groups – that was fun – and then labelled the axes with the paint names in the order that I intended to work through them. I subsequently discovered that I’d missed one out on one of the axes. This was very irritating, as I’d labelled them in pen, so I had to correct this in order for the chart to work properly.

And then I set to with the paint. It’s a methodical, slightly meditative process, requiring concentration. I’m sure I didn’t follow the recommended method, as I put my main colour on the paper and then added the next colour to it, mixing on the paper rather than in the palette. My excuse is that this might show me a range of colours that could be achieved in one square, as often I work this way in painting. I chose to repeat the colours on the grid to make it a full rectangle, reasoning that two shots at mixing each two colours together might be more representative than just one.

As I went along, I made some interesting observations:

  1. I discovered that there were a few colours which, if necessary, I could easily remove from my palette as the mixing results were very similar. I could drop Indigo if I kept Payne’s Grey (or vice versa) and the same goes for these pairs: Raw Sienna and Yellow Ochre; Winsor Green (blue) and Winsor Green (yellow); and Cadmium Yellow and Indian Yellow.
  2. I find that I love my new colour, Quinacridone Red, which I’d only just added to my paintbox. I think there’s a lot of potential there.
  3. The Siennas make some wonderful colours when combined with the blues. I’ll definitely be doing more of that.
  4. I really dislike Indian Red. It’s a bully of a colour and dominated every other I mixed it with. However, I think it might still have its uses, so I’m keeping it.
  5. Cerulean looks dreadful when it’s going on wet, but actually dries very nicely.
  6. I think I’ll try to make more use of violet for mixing very darks, there’s a lot of potential there.

All in all, this was a really very useful exercise which I hope will reduce the amount of ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ I do when painting. I’m glad I took the time to do it, and now my only worry is how I’m going to carry the chart with me when I paint, until I really know my colours!